Here I am at last with my brother and his family in upstate New York, just seven miles from the Canadian border in the rural farming town of Chazy. I arrived after a 28-hour trip on August 13, tired but looking forward to revisiting my roots in Vermont and New York. Time had gone by so fast I hadn’t realized that the last time I had visited my folks was way back in 2008, that’s three years ago, when our mom passed on!

This trip I am spending time with my brother and his family that now includes two young adorable grandchildren … let me see, that would make them my grandnieces? In September he and his wife Kathy are celebrating their 35th wedding anniversary; I am looking forward to that! I will also make a trip, weather conditions permitting, to my birthplace in Rutland, Vermont, to see what has happened to that area of the country since I left it almost 50 years ago. I will visit my sister who lives in that area, too. Then I plan to travel down to Springfield, Vermont, to visit my uncle, 98 yrs old, the last living sibling of my father. Of course an important part of my Vermont visit will be to pass by the family cemetery to visit the resting places of my mom and dad.

The countryside of the Green Mountains of Vermont is so much different than in the Philippines. The mountain ranges are high and boast of excellent ski slopes in the winter months. The mountains are surrounded with rolling hills that give way to verdant farm lands. Despite the encroachment of homes and rural settlements, the forest cover remains, with abundant trees wherever one looks. It is rugged, rocky in many places, and beautiful to my eyes.

New York state in the Chazy and Plattsburgh areas where my brother lives has a flatter landscape more suited to farming, with large fields planted to soybeans, field corn, and other feed crops. My father and brother used to farm the land, raising a herd of dairy cows, until after the death of my father, my brother was constrained to sell due to health reasons. The land is now owned by a neighbor who is one of the country’s biggest egg producers, producing more than one million eggs per day for sale to the city markets as far away as Boston, Mass.

The air here is different than in Manila, perhaps because it brings back long-forgotten memories of my childhood years on the farm. Instead of the fumes of the jeepneys, motorcycles and endless traffic, I breathe in the fresh scents of summer fields and flowers. Instead of the early evenings we have in the Philippines where it gets dark by 7pm, the summer evenings here often stretch to 9pm, allowing several hours of downtime to chat and reminisce about our growing-up experiences while bringing each other up-to-date on family affairs.

Revisiting one’s roots. A must if we are to be the persons God means us to be. A must for us to find meaning in our lives. A must for keeping treasured memories alive so that we can share them with our children and grandchildren and their children. Thank you, Lord, for blessing me with this time to revisit my roots.

Since I arrived here, I have been reflecting on the value of family and friendship. I have also been reading from The Prophet authored by the Lebanese philosopher Kahlil Gibran. Some of his thoughts on Friendship have a direct congruence with family relationships. I would like to share his thoughts on Friendship with you.

“Your friend is your needs answered. He is your field which you sow with love and reap with thanksgiving. … When your friend speaks his mind you fear not the “nay” in your own mind, nor do you withhold the “ay”. … For without words, in friendship, all thoughts, all desires, all expectations are born and shared, with joy that is unacclaimed.

“And let there be no purpose in friendship save the deepening of the spirit. For love that seeks aught but the disclosure of its own mystery is not love but a net cast forth: and only the unprofitable is caught.

“And let your best be for your friend. If he must know the ebb of your tide, let him know its flood also. For what is your friend that you should seek him with hours to kill? Seek him always with hours to live. For it is his to fill your need, but not your emptiness. And in the sweetness of friendship let there be laughter, and sharing of pleasures. For in the dew of little things the heart finds its morning and is refreshed.”

We could easily substitute the word “family” for the word “friend”, thus giving further depth to the meaning of relationships within the family. Wouldn’t it be wonderful if sibling brothers and sisters, parents and children, and family relatives could answer this definition of real friendship? If they could experience the wonders of laughing and crying together? If they could be friends as well as caring family members – through thick and thin, through disagreements and accomplishments, through hurts and joys?

I especially like Gibran’s phrase “Seek him always with hours to live.” Not with hours to kill nor with hours to waste! Being together with family and/or friends is in itself a prayer of presence, a way of nourishing caring, loving relationships, a way of strengthening the bonds of friendship and family oneness. We must treasure such times of togetherness and use them for good, for uplifting activities, rather than for drinking bouts, gambling, or other unproductive, time-wasting, health-damaging, unprofitable pursuits.

Family and strong relationships are the anchor of our social system and culture. We need to remember when we grumble and complain and point a finger at others, that our three other fingers are pointing right back at us. It is to the family, it is to us, it is to true friendships within and without our families that we must look if we desire to improve and transform our society.

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